And the second half of Gone with the Wind never fails to exasperate me: The war ends, Tara is restored, the couple seems to break up definitively, then get back together definitively, and then marry, and then have a kid, then on and on and on. Even when Rhett leaves Scarlet for the “final time” at the end, I don’t really buy that he’s gone for good. What is the dramatic question here?
There isn’t one. Unlike The Godfather, this sprawling epic saga doesn’t seem to have a pre-established end point. No dramatic question unites the movie, and it limps to a finish two hours after it should have ended. (Seriously, folks, just quit watching at the intermission. You won’t miss anything.)
Straying from the Party Line: Wrapping Up the Drama a Little Early in The Fighter Here and here, I say that the dilemma needs to last right up until the climax or sometimes past it. Either the climactic action resolves it, or it gets resolved afterwards in an epilogue. This is because any climax that happens after the resolution of the dilemma will feel meaningless as the story “rolls downhill.”
In fact I previously pointed to this very movie as an example of how to do this right:
- Ward is famous today for the three knock-down, drag-out title fights he fought against Arturo Gatti. But you won’t see those here. The writers took a good look at his life, decided that the best story was Ward’s struggle with his own family, and then ruthlessly pared that story down to its essence. We begin when Ward finally becomes aware of that problem and we end when that problem is ultimately resolved. The Gatti fights came about because Ward had solved his problems outside the ring, so they have no place here.
The implication is clear: sports movies get a little more slack. The alternative, after all, is to have the person the hero is having a problem with sitting in the stands, allowing them to silently communicate their emotional breakthrough just before our hero wins the match. It can be done, but it’s far from ideal, so it’s okay to wrap the emotional beats up a little early, and end with nothing but triumph. In some sports movies, the actual victory is just a victory lap.
(How much of an extension on the deadline do you get? Probably only about ten minutes, so don’t push it!)
The 40 Year Old Virgin
YES. The movie ends one minute after it’s answered.
YES, the alien is killed at the very end.
YES. She gets into Oxford.
NO. We never find out if the psychiatrist arrived, but now we sense that they don’t need him or her anymore.
YES. the townspeople stay, but Bart leaves.
YES. we finally see the man with the missing ear.
The Bourne Identity
YES. we finds out why his mind snapped, and what happens when he confronts Conklin.
YES. The story ends very quickly after the wedding comes off well.
YES. we find out who’s on that plane.
NO. The dramatic question has shifted many times before we reach the end.
YES. he returns to his wife in the last scene.
Do the Right Thing
YES. we find out the consequences of the heat.
YES. we see that the lie doesn’t come out, Billi doesn’t tell the truth, and Nai Nai doesn’t die.
YES. Micky becomes champion.
YES. All of the stories except the Kristoff story climax at the exact same moment as the curse is broken.
YES. the movie ends immediately after he goes into custody.
YES. He presumably makes it home.
YES. “Let’s live here.”
How to Train Your Dragon
YES. Hiccup finds the nest halfway, but the rest find it at the end.
In a Lonely Place
YES. we find out that Dix didn’t kill her.
YES. Stane is stopped.
YES. The story goes a bit past the end of the main dramatic question: Will she leave town? But then we realize the real question: Will she accept her mom and what her town has done for her?
YES. They finally come face to face with Nathan Sr.
YES. He gets a girlfriend in Margaret Yang.
YES. Onscreen titles about the characters voting.
YES. they leave in the final shot.
YES. We get the wedding, drinking the wine and hooking up one after another, the end.
The Silence of the Lambs
YES. Girl is rescued, lambs stop screaming.
YES. The plans are used to destroy the Death Star at the very end.
Almost. We find out how he ended up in the pool, but there’s one really big scene still to come.